Save the Semiprozine – Part 4 (conclusion)

When I launched this site, I told fellow editors that we needed to focus on our strengths and accomplishments to make our case. In a page right out of Horton Hears a Who, we’ve stood up and screamed “We’re here! We’re here! We’re here!” and I think people have heard us. Now we count on them to do what they believe is right.

Several times over the last few months, the discussion has turned to “we know the category is defined poorly, but first we must save it.” My mistake has never been addressing what comes next. Next we fix the definition.

I’ve been told that far greater minds have tried to address the problem, but sitting here hip-deep in semiprozineland (and speaking entirely on my own behalf), I’d like to offer you what I see as the defining characteristic of a 21st century semiprozine: their editors don’t make a living at this. Seeing Mike’s discussion at File 770, I feel for him. The definition of Fanzine is changing under their feet as well, but at its heart, it seems that a lot of people believe that a defining characteristic of Fanzines is that they don’t pay anyone. So how is this for a crazy and overly simplistic model for the future (should we survive):

Fanzine: A publication primarily devoted to science fiction and / or fantasy in which contributors and editors are unpaid.

Semiprozine: A publication primarily devoted to science fiction and / or fantasy in which contributors are paid and from which none of the staff receive their primary income.

Professional Editor (short form): An editor, not covered by the above categories, of at least four (4) anthologies, collections or magazine issues primarily devoted to science fiction and / or fantasy, at least one of which was published in the previous calendar year.

So that’s my little pitch for the future. First we save the Semiprozine Hugo and then we make it more meaningful. In the last few months, I’ve come to know a lot more about my colleagues in the semiprozine category. Representing them as a nominee and through this site has been an honor that cannot be taken away, win or lose. It is my sincere hope that the Best Semiprozine Hugo is around for years to come. I hope that you feel the same and will join me in the discussion that follows after we win.

11 thoughts on “Save the Semiprozine – Part 4 (conclusion)

  1. I just found out about this issue through Ansible, and as a former semiprozine publisher myself, I would not like to see the category disappear. Of course, in 1980-82 the distinction was very clear. My zine was typeset, offset printed and had colour covers. Fanzines were usually typed on a typewriter and reproduced by Gestetner machine or photocopier.

    These days, those formatting issues mean very little. A fanzine with a circulation of 10 copies can have better production values than my poor old Orion ever did.

    Your cost/salary/production definition goes part of the way towards solving the problem, but not the full distance.

    I understand that the Hugos are U.S. awards (even if they’re being given in Canada this year), but your definition of a semi-prozine swallows magazines from Canada and the U.K. that I consider to be fully professional, including On Spec and Interzone. On Spec really IS Canada’s answer to F&SF and Asimov’s, but it’s run more like a semiprozine because it’s not (and can’t be, given the realities of Canadian publishing) a mass-market magazine. We just have different economies of scale outside of the U.S. Full-time, fully professional magazine editors, especially in small niche markets, are much rarer on the ground.

    Frankly, almost no small literary magazine, SF or otherwise, Canadian, American or British would qualify as a professional magazine by your definition.

  2. Hey! There’s a thought.

    Why not change the term from “semiprozine” to “small magazine?”

    Then you’re not commenting so much on the “professionalism” of the publication as on the size of the operation, and it still maintains the distinction between fanzine, small magazine and professional magazine.

    What do you think?

  3. The editors of OnSpec and Interzone have been contributing members of this site. They have traditionally competed in semiprozine category, so my suggestion changes nothing about their status.

    Calling them (or any one of us) a semiprozine is not a statement about professionalism. One can behave professionally and still maintain a semi-professional status in a field.

    All that aside, the name does confuse people and I would not stand in the way of an appropriate suggestion to replace it.

  4. It’s dead, Jim. Kill it off. Let it die the same time Charlie Brown did.

    According to your definitions, because neither LOCUS nor my SCIENCE FICTION CHRONICLE published fiction, we wouldn’t be in any of the three categories.

    And, by the way, having been nominated, what, 20+ times, and losing to THE SAME PERSON time after time after time after…. it’s not an honor to be nominated. It’s driven me hopelessly insane, and only my time at the Betty Ford Clinic for Wayward Fan Editors saved my sanity. Or, Maybe Not…

  5. Where does my definition state that the publication has to publish fiction? Paid and unpaid contributors can write non-fiction or fiction.

    As for it not being an honor, you’re certainly entitled to your opinion. All the other current and past nominees I’ve spoken with disagree with you. I’m one of them.

  6. Well, that’s what happens when you blunder into an ongoing conversation. Sorry, Neil, I certainly did not mean to impugn anybody’s professionalism, but that’s the problem with this terminology we’re stuck with. So yes, I think the problem is a terminological one that needs to be solved terminologically.

    In 1979 “semiprozine” was a precise, if inelegant, term with an easily defined meaning. In 2009, with digital printing, ezines, blogs and podcasts, the boundaries are very fuzzy indeed. Virtually none of the criteria used to distinguish fanzine from semi-pro from pro in 1979 apply anymore.

    Frankly, I think the whole world has become fandom, and the web is just a giant APA, but that’s a story for another time.

    How about these criteria?

    Mass-market (or Large) magazine: Includes magazines like Asimov’s, F&SF or even something as major as Omni, if such a thing ever arose again.

    Medium (or medium-market) magazines: Would encompass existing semipro zines and small literary-style magazines like On Spec.

    Fanzines (or Small): Everything else.

    What do you think?

  7. No problem.

    My main reason for opposing a definition like would be that the boundaries are not clearly defined. It’s one of the major issues I have with the existing definition, so I wouldn’t see it as a step forward.

  8. Without addressing the main point — as Business Meeting Chair, I must remain neutral — but I would like to briefly touch on Mark Shainblum’s comment @3:

    “I understand that the Hugos are U.S. awards….”

    I find this very disappointing. Anyone can join the Worldcon. In the ten years ending next year, Worldcon was in the USA only half of them. Indeed, not too long ago I had to correct someone who thought that WSFS rules required every other Worldcon to be outside the USA. And nearly every year, WSFS has given special status to works not originally published in the USA to give those works a better chance to compete equally with those with American distribution. And yet we continue to have people dismiss the Hugos as purely an American award. What more must we do?

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